Interview: Manda From Folk-Rock Band Numbat On Debut Single ‘TAFE’


Words by Kate Lockyer {Kate Lockyer Music}


Numbat is a three-piece folk-rock band from Naarm (Melbourne) playing songs about people, places, and things. I got a chance to chat with lead songwriter, Manda, who talked about songwriting, numbats (!) and the band’s upcoming album, due sometime mid-2021.

You’ve just released your first single – TAFE. How are you feeling about it being out in the world?

“I feel pretty good, it was nerve-wracking letting go of something that I’ve cared about for so long and will care about forever, but it happened and I’m feeling pretty good.”

Give me an insight into what the song is about, I’ve listened to it and you have really vivid lyrics with a lot of imagery that also feels really raw, tell me how you came to write it?

“I actually wrote it sitting in my TAFE classroom five years ago now, lusting after one of my fellow classmates. We were in an incredibly boring chemistry-based class talking about agricultural chemicals, and some of the lyrics are nods to things that happen in chemical reactions. It’s just about turning up to TAFE every day and seeing this person. Sort of wondering where it was going and knowing it was going nowhere but still having to see them every day and going through those motions.”

So, I hear you have an album coming out, how are things tracking?

“Yeah, we’ve got a few things left to record but everything is in motion and on track which is cool.”

You’re the main songwriter for the band, what was your process with the songs on this album?

“All the stuff that’s on the album I’ve been performing solo for under the name Numbat for a while and then we got the band together maybe a year and a half ago. So I think only a couple of things on the album are more recent, it’s mainly older stuff. And the way I go around songwriting, I tend to write lyrics first and things are written from, you know, my TAFE classroom, to my old workplace, to my current workplace. I take a lot of inspiration from where I am and being immersed in tasks, you know using my mind being at work or whatever I find really useful because it sets my hands away and I can get in my head and use it for lyrical things rather than, you know, thinking about slicing oranges.”

I can relate to that, your mind always wanders.

“It’s nice to have something to focus on.”

Yeah, and obviously everyone has different songwriting approaches, like some people have to be sitting in their room by themselves, but yeah, for some it comes them while they’re doing things. So how long have you been songwriting for?

“Well, I wrote terrible nursery rhymes when I was little, but the first ‘song’ song I ever wrote, I would have been like 13. And it would be truly bad, I’m pretty sure I have a whole book of songs I wrote and I went through it to see if there was any gold in there and I don’t think there was.”

Just a little pre-teen angst maybe.

“Yeah, a little of that and lots of writing songs with my friends and thinking that we were the spice girls but not actually at all.”

So when did you first start gigging?

“As Numbat, probably two and a half, three years ago. I just played solo, and I still play solo sometimes, but I play with the band most of the time now.”

I was wondering, how did the name Numbat come about? I love it – it’s super quirky and very aussie as well.

“Totally, it sort of just came to me when I was at TAFE again, which was a conservation land management course, so completely immersed in everything Australian and native bushland etc. I don’t know, there’s something about the word, it’s just a fantastic word, and they’re also fantastic animals. Big shout out to numbats, they are actually really cool and more people should know about them.”

So the takeaway is basically go and find out about numbats.

“100%. Go and find out about all the different types of numbats.”

How did the band form? When did you go from solo performing to starting this band?

“I went into the studio I had been working with a couple of years ago actually and wrote a few songs, and grabbed a couple of my mates to play along and see how it sounded, and see if I liked the full band kind of sound. Amongst many things I was I guess a bit scared about adding to stuff in ways that I couldn’t entirely control but I found that it was really awesome. So those two original members were completely tied up in other bands around Melbourne because there are too many bands and not enough musicians. After a while my friend Andy, who plays bass, ended up contacting me and being like ‘Hey, I know you need a bass player, let’s do this thing’. So that was awesome having him on board. And then our drummer Jess actually moved down from Darwin into the spare room in my house and we bought a drum kit together in the first week that she moved down and it’s great. Having a drummer move into your house is definitely the easiest way to find a drummer.”

How would you say the music you play has changed or evolved since playing it as a band?

“I feel like it’s gotten a bit rockier I suppose, it’s got a bit more grit to it now. I used to always play acoustic guitar for solo stuff, then started playing my electric for solo stuff and now use the electric for the band. Just doing that definitely changed the sound. Occasionally I grab the acoustic out to pay homage to the roots but I find the tones I can get out of the electric, there’s just so much more variance that’s possible.”

Do you have a favourite gig that you’ve done?

“Totes, a couple of years ago – it was meant to run again in 2020 but Covid ruined everything – I did a gig called ‘We Need to Pay the Rent’, which was a fundraiser for Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance. That was pretty epic with a pretty sweet lineup, lots of awesome local Melbourne bands and raised lots of money for the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance which was great.”

So, 2020, a bit of a rocky year. Obviously some of the strictest lockdowns in Australia have been in Melbourne. Is there anything you’re taking out of the pandemic that you’ll continue?

“Oh, I bought a lot of indoor plants, I think myself and every other amateur gardener has just had a field day. My house is now more of a jungle than it has ever been, which suits me fine. It’s getting harder to take care of, but I definitely recommend having indoor plants.”

Are there any influences that you would say have shaped your sound?

“I’m really into a lot of stuff that’s happening at the moment, which is really awesome. There’s an artist in WA called Carla Geneve who is super amazing. Definitely draw a bit of influence from how gritty and dirty and epic she is. Angie McMahon as well, who’s 100% made a name for herself because she has such beautiful songwriting and lyricism with the lulls and highs – big fan, again. I guess there’s so many female songwriters and performers coming through at the moment that it’s hard to narrow it down where I’m finding influence, but it’s definitely feeling like a collective push too see more of that which is amazing.”

And how would you describe your style?

“I guess… in genre-land, storytelling.”

That’s a good word to describe it, I’ve only heard one of your songs so far but that definitely came through for me.

“It’s an ongoing thing, I feel like in some of the songs I play it comes through less, in TAFE it’s less of like a narrative than a bunch of my songs are. So there’s definitely more stories… and it’s less of ‘it could be them’, or ‘it could be you’, and more like telling someone a story.”

What can you tell me about the upcoming album, what should we expect?

“Lots of stories, lots of highs and lots of lows, and a single idea weaving through all of it. It’s kind of all tied together. It feels kinda weird putting an album out as a first release but they all need to go together.”

Well, I’m on the edge of my seat to hear it. I will definitely be looking out for it!

Stream Numbat’s debut single TAFE HERE!

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With thanks to Headstone Records

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